Former Black Head Coaches: Rooney Rule Broken

Former Black Head Coaches: Rooney Rule Broken

Three prominent former black NFL head coaches said the Rooney Rule is broken and needs to be fixed. 

Tony Dungy, who was the first black head coach to win the Super Bowl when he led the Indianapolis Colts to a 2006 win in the game, Jim Caldwell, who is now the Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator and once succeeded Dungy in Indianapolis, and Herm Edwards, who coached for teams like the New York Jets and the Kansas City Chiefs after his playing career and is now an ESPN analyst, all said the rule that requires NFL teams to interview a minority candidate before hiring a head coach needs tweaking.

“I know the concept is good and something we need to do,” Dungy said. “Obviously, it’s not working the way it should.”

They cite that there were 15 vacancies for coaches and general managers this season and all were filled by white candidates. They also note there are only four minority coaches in the league and only Mike Tomlin, of the Pittsburgh Steelers, was hired from outside the organization. The Rooney Rule is named after Steelers Chairman Dan Rooney and was implemented in 2003. 

Tomlin, though, was not hired because of the Rooney Rule. The Steelers actually interviewed Ron Rivera–who now coaches for the Carolina Panthers but was a defensive coordinator with teams like the Chicago Bears and the San Diego Chargers before then–before hiring Tomlin, who was an assistant coach with the Minnesota Vikings. Tomlin became the youngest head coach to win a Super Bowl in 2009. 

The NFL said the lack of minority hires was “disappointing” and have been pressured by groups such as the Fritz Pollard Alliance, described as “a group of minority coaches and front-office, scouting and game-day NFL officials,” to expand the Rooney Rule to apply to “coordinators, assistant head coaches and club president positions.”

Caldwell was fired by Indianapolis in 2011 and became the Ravens offensive coordinator after Baltimore head coach Jim Harbaugh fired Cam Cameron, the former coordinator known as an offensive genius. Under Caldwell, the Ravens offense that struggled all season has clicked during the playoffs. 

“It has been a great rule and it has worked in the past,” Caldwell said. “Just like anything else, you have to, after a certain period of time, revisit it and take a look and see if it needs a little tweaking. I think it does in this particular case.”

Caldwell is one of the few black coaches to have play-calling responsibilities. Most NFL owners seem to look at offensive coordinators and quarterbacks coaches when hiring potential new head coaches, and that is why groups like the Fritz Pollard Alliance want the Rooney Rule expanded to coordinator positions.

Dungy though also “said he believes the entire system is broken” because there have been 21 “coaching jobs changing in a three-year span, which he said indicates owners are making the wrong hires regardless of race.”

Currently, the coaches noted that many black candidates who know they are not going to get the job get called in for interviews under the Rooney Rule so teams can fulfill a bureaucratic requirement. Ultimately, the Rooney Rule cannot force any owner to hire a minority coaching candidate.